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Frequently Asked Questions: Finding and Checking Out Books

Answers to common questions about the library and doing research.

How do I find books?

To find books and other resources such as videos, maps, and music recordings in the UWM Libraries' collections, use Search@UW. You can search for a specific book by title or author. Use the keyword search if you are looking for books on a specific topic.

As you identify titles of interest, examine each book's record for location, call number, and status:


  • The location "Stacks" indicates the general collection. The "Stacks" are areas of shelving located all over the library. Use the first letter of the call number to determine where to go in the building. The Floor Key helps you with this. For call numbers starting with:

    In location you may also see a number of special areas in the building, such as Music Library, Reference, Archives, etc. See Building Information and Floorplans or Ask a Librarian for help if you are unsure where to go.
  • The call number is essential to locating any item. For most books, the libraries use the Library of Congress classification system, which consists of letters and numbers. The first letter or letters represent a subject area. Within a broad subject area, the books are arranged in numerical order. Since books on the same subject are given similar call numbers, once you locate a call number, browse the shelves to find more books on the same topic. See below for more information regarding call numbers.
  • The status indicates whether the book is available to be checked out. If the status says "Item in place," the book should be on the shelf. You can check it out at the circulation desk in the lobby of the west wing with a valid student, faculty, or staff ID. If the book is checked out to another user, you may place an online "Recall Request" via Search@UW. For more information about online recall requests, check Circulation policies regarding Recalled Books.

Electronic book information is available on the Electronic Books page.

Does the library have books for UWM courses?

Usually not; library collections do not in general overlap with what is available in the UWM Bookstore. Our collection development budget could not withstand ordering dozens of copies of books every few years (as new editions are released) for each UWM class.

You may search the library catalog using the instructions above to check if the library has any book title.

UW System Borrowing may also be used to obtain course books, however the Interlibrary Loan Office does not provide textbooks that are required for classes.

Course materials are occasionally placed on reserve by instructors. Use the "Course Reserve" menu in Search@UW to find these items.

You can see which books are required for classes online, via the bookstore's textbooks information. The library also provides links to several online booksellers, which may be used to search for the best price for course books.

The Multicultural Student Center has a number of books that are available to students through its Textbook Loan Program.

It is the responsibility of students to acquire textbooks required for courses. You can discuss your options with your instructor.

What are call numbers and what do they mean?

In order to locate a book, or any item, in the UWM Libraries, you need to know its call number. What is a call number? Here is an example:

  • BF5153 .V58 1994

Library materials are shelved in order by call number. For example, all the items with call numbers beginning "BF" will be together. These letters represent a subject area, in this case, Psychology. This system of arranging materials is called the Library of Congress classification system.

Within a broad subject area, books will be in numerical order using the number following the first letter or letters. For example, a book with the call number BF5153 will be shelved far after a book with the call number BF578, since 5153 is much greater than 578. Once you find the location of BF5153, several books may have call numbers beginning "BF5153..." These books will be in order according to the letters and numbers after BF5153. For example all these books will come before our book, BF5153 .V58 1994:

  • BF5153 .R33 1998
  • BF5153 .R45 1996
  • BF5153 .S64 1985

See Finding Books guide for more information.

Help! I can't find this book or journal on the shelf.

Double-check the location, call number, and status (see above).

If you still cannot locate the item, please use the steps outlined in Can I place a book on hold? to have us look for the item for you.

See also: How do I find materials the UWM libraries do not own?

How do I check out books?

Your UWM ID (PantherCard) is also your library card. For most library materials, take the item to the Circulation Desk in the main lobby of the west wing with your ID card.

Some library materials cannot be checked out. See the library Circulation Policies for more information.

Can I place a book on hold?

Yes, we offer a paging service. Library employees will retrieve items from the stacks and set them on the hold shelf for you.

Please note that this is not a same-day service, nor does placing a hold stop someone else from coming in to the library and checking the item out ahead of you. Once the item is on the hold shelf, however, it is reserved for you.

To make a paging request, log in to Search@UW, locate the record for your desired item, and use the "Local Request" option under Get It menu.

You can view the status of your requests from the "My Account" page in Search@UW. Items are held under your name at the Main Circulation Desk.

How do I renew books?

To renew a book, use the "My Library Account" link on the homepage, or sign in to Search@UW. From there you can view your library fines (if any), see what books you have checked out with their due dates, and renew materials (if possible -- see Circulation Policies for more information).

Interlibrary loan renewals are done within ILLiad.